Although he threw in everything but the kitchen sink, Donald Trump barely mentioned religion or culture wars themes during his 116-minute speech Thursday night. As the Charlotte Observer noted, were it not for Mike Pence, the God mentions by major speakers at this convention would have been pretty sparse.
Maybe that's because Trump knows that nearly every time he refers to the Bible, he makes some kind of mistake? It's one thing to mess up in front of Liberty University students; it's another to goof up when you're accepting your party's nomination for President.
For the record, here's the only religion content in Trump's speech:
At this moment, I would like to thank the evangelical and religious community because I'll tell you what. Because the support they've given me, and I'm not sure I totally deserve it, has been so amazing. And has had such a big reason for me being here tonight. True. So true. They have much to contribute to our politics, yet our laws prevent you from speaking your minds from your own pulpits. An amendment, pushed by Lyndon Johnson many years ago, threatens religious institutions with a loss of their tax-exempt status if they openly advocate their political views.
I am going to work very hard to repeal that language and to protect free speech for all Americans.
An earlier draft of Trump's speech that got leaked did not have the words “and religious.”
Here's an explanation of that Johnson amendment, courtesy of Politifact. Thursday night was such sparse pickings for anyone looking for divine content that Slate termed it "The GOP's Godless Convention." Fortunately for us, Rolling Stone -- yes, Rolling Stone -- released this analysis Thursday afternoon about infighting among evangelicals over the GOP nominee.
In the 2016 Republican primary, Falwell Jr., the president of the evangelical Liberty University, had a choice of 16 other candidates, including several with impeccable records on the religious right's core issues of opposing abortion and LGBT rights. Every one of them was more rehearsed in public displays of piety and biblical literacy than Trump. By contrast, Trump, who says he's a Presbyterian but has not recently belonged to any church, Presbyterian or otherwise, stumbles over Bible verses and even describing basic tenets of Christianity. One of his most notable gaffes was his August 2015 statement that he has never asked God for forgiveness -- something many evangelicals have apparently either forgotten or forgiven.
Falwell's decision to endorse Trump, not as the only man standing at the end of the primary process, but as the best man for the job before a single vote was cast, was seen by many as besmirching his father's legacy. There was "anger, frustration, bewilderment," says one evangelical activist who opposes Trump. "You'd hear comments like, 'If we see the Trump school of business open at Liberty University, we'll know why this happened.'"
This endorsement especially shocked followers of Sen. Ted Cruz, who had desperately hoped for evangelical backing.
He received millions of evangelical votes, but so did Trump. The article continues:
Falwell's endorsement wreaked havoc in the evangelical world by pitting evangelical allies against each other in bitter and unusually public ways. Mark DeMoss, a Liberty alumnus who was Falwell's father's chief of staff, and later an advisor to Mitt Romney's 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, was asked to step down from the executive committee of Liberty's board after criticizing Falwell's Trump endorsement to a Washington Post reporter.
DeMoss, a respected public relations executive specializing in evangelical causes, tells Rolling Stone, "instead of Jerry Falwell and I simply saying publicly, 'This is one we disagree on,' it got very personal and ugly. Some of the reaction, quite frankly, felt to me very Trumpian, the way the Trump campaign treated people, Trump's campaign supporters treat people."
The Rolling Stone piece didn't say a whole lot that we didn't already know but it neatly summed up what's been going on in the faith car on the Trump Train during the past half year. To no one’s surprise, Jerry Falwell Jr. was given a spot on the Thursday night speaker’s list as pointed out by the Los Angeles Times:
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins also gave a pro-Trump speech on Thursday night, as reported by The Hill. Not a whole lot of religion in that one.
Elsewhere, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency ran a piece on “Five Jewish Things to Expect from Donald Trump (and Ivanka) on Thursday Night” and got four out of the five right. The wire service suggested Trump would “praise his Jewish family,” and although Trump praised his family, he didn’t call out their religious preferences. It's well known that Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, are both Jewish.
This weekend on PBS stations, look for the Religion & Ethics Newsweekly's wrap-up of the GOP'ers and God that includes a clip of Mike Huckabee playing base guitar at a worship service and an opening prayer led by a Sikh. Although light by normal standards, religion coverage of the Republicans is going to look positively lush compared to the faith desert coming up next week when the Democrats meet in Philly, unless there is a major stress on the Tim Kaine VP nod in an attempt to reach out to Catholic voters.
However, this is the political party that is built on a large concentrations of "nones," So journalists looking for the faith factor may have their work cut out for them.